Sleep is an essential part of everyday life. We all love a good night’s sleep and loathe the tiredness and lack of concentration that comes from not having slept well.
Sleep also contributes to our feelings of wellness and our happiness. Many of us go through periods of time in our lives where we experience problems with our sleep. Sleep disruption, delayed sleep, insomnia—whatever you want to call it, sleep issues are a common experience, especially when you are feeling emotionally overwhelmed by the demands life places on you.
There is so much general advice out there on things to help you sleep, referred to as sleep hygiene. This includes how many hours to aim for, going to bed at the same time every day, getting up at the same time every day, avoiding day time sleep, taking regular exercise (but only during day time), avoiding caffeine alcohol and nicotine, not going to bed hungry or overfull, and having a good routine for bedtime.
One of the things I always advise my patients is to rethink their use of screens, especially in their bedrooms. You may find it hugely beneficial to change the way you use screens and electronic devices at night and leading up to bedtime.
In this digital age, most of us love our electronics, whether it’s a tablet, mobile phone, games console, laptop, computer, or TV. But these things take up a lot of our time, and they do not help with sleep at all.
In fact, they are proven to disrupt sleep. They can suppress the body’s ability to release melatonin—a sleep-inducing hormone. Therefore, avoiding these things can help you sleep better.
The habit of checking our devices last thing at night and reaching for them first thing in the morning is ingrained in us. Remember these points when you next find yourself reaching for your device:
- They stimulate your brain.
- The light that some devices emit can interfere with your internal body clock.
- Devices can be highly addictive, eating into even more sleep time.
- Checking work emails at night can create worry and stress, leading your brain to become stimulated in thinking about a specific issue/task.
Sleep hygiene is really important for us, and I would recommend thinking about all these things if you haven’t already.
In addition to sleep hygiene, here are some natural things to help you sleep, that you can try straight away, some of which you may not have come across before. Even with the best routines and behaviors around sleep, we can still struggle to get some decent shut-eye, and having ways to deal with that can be invaluable.
Quoting the Dalai Lama,
“Sleep is the best meditation.”
1. Mindfulness and Breathing
Mindfulness—yes, here it is again. We’ve all heard of it, and you guessed right—it can help with your sleep and is proven to do so.
Looking at it simply, mindfulness is the ability to objectively and non-judgmentally take notice of our internal and external experiences as they happen and without reactivity. When we can’t sleep, we experience unwanted thoughts and unpleasant feelings—the type we want to get rid of quickly, so that we can fall asleep.
Mindfulness shifts our focus from trying not to think about these things to accepting that these thoughts and feelings will come and then, noticing their presence without struggling against them. Then, as you lie still in your bed, move your focus to your breath and simply count 1 on every inhale and 2 on every exhale. Do this very slowly, allowing your lungs to fill and empty as you go.
Some people find that tuning into this rhythm can get them off to sleep. It’s important to stick to this consistently before you decide it doesn’t work. Naturally, our attention can drift away. When this happens, just restart the counting of your breath. Let your body relax with each breath as you feel calmer, and approach the fringes of sleepiness.
2. Weighted Blankets
Maybe you’ve heard of these before maybe you haven’t, but they really are something else. Weighted blankets are exactly what they sound like—heavy blankets that are just the right weight to apply deep, evenly distributed pressure on your body, resulting in a calming effect that aids relaxation and sleep.
Some people have described the feeling of a weighted blanket as being hugged or held. There has been lots of research on the effectiveness of using weighted blankets, and a recent study in the Journal of Clinical and Sleep Medicine confirmed the benefits of using them. They have helped many people reduce sleep onset time (the time it takes to get off to sleep) and the number of nighttime awakenings.
Aside from the deep pressure and holding experienced by the use of a weighted blanket, they have also been shown to increase serotonin, a neurotransmitter involved in regulating sleep. All these benefits from a heavy blanket.
Learn more about the benefits of sleeping with weighted blankets here: Weighted Blanket for Anxiety and Insomnia: How to Make It Work
3. Yoga Nidra
Yoga Nidra is one of the fastest-growing forms of yoga right now, and guess what, it can help you get right off to sleep. Yoga Nidra is a technique for supporting your body’s natural relaxation response. It has been noted as therapeutic for several health conditions.
It’s essentially a type of meditation of the experience of falling asleep. This is a type of yoga where you don’t actually have to move. You just lie still under your duvet—cozy and warm—and are talked into sleepiness by listening to a recording.
Think of it as a type of restful yoga in bed, requiring you to listen to a Yoga Nidra recording to help your mind and body restore themselves to a restful sleep state. You can find recordings on YouTube to give this technique a try. I don’t know anyone who hasn’t fallen asleep after a session of Yoga Nidra.
4. White Noise
If you are someone who experiences the slightest noise as disruptive to your sleep, then you might find white noise helpful. White noise is when sound waves of a broad spectrum of frequencies are combined to form a sound that blocks out background noise, reducing your attention to external sound. By doing this, white noise acts as a constant ambient sound to help mask the surrounding noise.
Many people find the rhythm of white noise soothing and relaxing. Before you rush out and buy a white noise machine to test out whether it could help you or not, there are plenty of white noise recordings available on YouTube.
Try to be consistent, with some level of persistence. Many things don’t work the first time, but that doesn’t mean they won’t work at all. Moving away from the idea of a quick fix to focusing on experimenting with a flexible attitude can be helpful.
From personal experience, changing the focus from trying to sleep to accepting it might not happen helps take the pressure off and reduce sleep stress.
The more we struggle to sleep, the more frustrated we can feel, and the more unwilling we can become of tolerating and experiencing unwanted thoughts and feelings that arise. This can leave us wired with stress and anxiety. This actually heightens wakefulness, with the nervous system becoming increasingly activated and consequently, worsening sleep problems.
The purpose of acceptance is to accept that we will experience unwanted thoughts and feelings. We should accept that we may not sleep so well given the problems we are having, and move to focus on resting and allowing discomfort to be present instead of struggling against it.
The more accepting our attitude towards whatever problems we are having with sleep, the greater the willingness is to experience poor sleep. This often results in fewer struggles, less arousal, and interestingly, improved levels of sleepiness.
Next time you hit the sack, try to gently say to yourself, “I might not sleep, sleep is sometimes hard for me, I accept it might be difficult again tonight, but I will focus on resting my eyes, and my body.” Keep trying these techniques over several nights to try and lessen the intensity of the struggle you are having with sleep.
Hopefully, you are now armed with a few more techniques to manage sleep difficulties. Remember that like most people, many of us don’t get the exact number of hours we would like every single night. Some nights we get less, and some nights we get more. I certainly do.
Have an acceptance that sleep fluctuates, and at worst, you may feel tired,. But you know there will not be a catastrophe, that you will cope, and that you will get through the day just like you always do.
As always, if you’ve tried lots of things to help you sleep but are still experiencing difficulty, consider seeing your doctor.
More Things to Help You Sleep
Featured photo credit: Gregory Pappas via unsplash.com